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By Bryan Jacobson, Linux Technology Center.

While Virtualization offers many benefits, there can also be increased security risks. For example, consider a system running two hundred virtual images. All two hundred images are at risk if a flaw in the hypervisor (or configuration) allows any virtual guest to “break out” into the host environment and affect other virtual guests.

sVirt is a project to improve the security of Linux virtualization. Svirt applies the Mandatory Access Control (MAC) features of SELinux to strengthen the isolation between virtual images. Svirt works with KVM/QEMU and other Linux virtualization systems where the virtual image runs as a Linux user space process.

sVirt is a community project, with founding authors from Red Hat: Daniel Berrange, James Morris, and Dan Walsh. sVirt is integrated with libvirt.

One of my favorite sVirt use cases is: “Strongly isolating desktop applications by running them in separately labeled VMs (e.g. online banking in one VM and World of Warcraft in another; opening untrusted office documents in an isolated VM for view/print only).” (From the 8/11/2008 sVirt project announcement at

The project announcement also identifies an excellent design goal: “Initially, sVirt should “just work” as a means to isolate VMs, with minimal administrative interaction. e.g. an option is added to virt-manager which allows a VM to be designated as “isolated”, and from then on, it is automatically run in a separate security context, with policy etc. being generated and managed by libvirt.”.

You can find a 48 minute video of James Morris’s February 2009 presentation on sVirt at

Slides from that presentation are at:

by Klaus Heinrich Kiwi, LTC Security team

The openCryptoki project, a PKCS#11 provider for Linux with support for software and hardware tokens, has released new versions for both the openCryptoki code itself as well as for it’s associated library, libica.

  • Libica-2 is a major cleanup from the previous versions. It has a new API and supports software fall-back (OpenSSL) when no Crypto hardware is present. The current version (2.0.2) has bug fixes and improved code examples.
  • OpenCryptoki 2.3.0 includes support for Libica-2 and has a number of bug fixes and minor improvements

OpenCryptoki is the most common way that PKCS#11-enabled applications (including Java JCE aplications) can exploit cryptographic hardware in a Linux environment.

By Bryan Jacobson, Linux Technology Center.

Tyler Hicks (from our team) recently attended the 5/25-29 Ubuntu Developers Summit for Karmic Koala in Barcelona, Spain.

Some of Tyler’s observations on Security topics:

  • There are quite a few eCryptfs users out there and they are generally happy with the version shipped in Jaunty. Most were using the encrypted home feature, but some wanted more flexibility and had custom setups.
  • eCryptfs encrypted swap is on the roadmap for Karmic.
  • Michael Rooney has been working on graphical applications to compliment some of the eCryptfs userspace tools that are currently bound to the command line.
  • Tyler held an eCryptfs roadmap talk about future eCryptfs features: eCryptfs on top of popular network filesystems, improved key management, and asking for someone interested in completing the eCryptfs GPG key module.

Some general observations from Tyler:

  • Ubuntu would like to be the premier guest available in Amazon EC2.
  • Ubuntu users will soon have a daily build of the virtualization stack available, which is a big win for both the upstream developers and the users.
  • Dustin Kirkland gave a talk on leveraging the cloud for data center power savings.
  • The Ubuntu kernel team committed to removing non-upstream kernel code that no one is using anymore.

See the whole story on Tyler blog at:

AMTU 1.07 has just been released on ATMU’s Sourceforge home. This release incorporates a patch from Joy Latten to add IPv6 interfaces to the list of interfaces probed to test networking devices. It also contains a small fix to the memory separation routine.

MD5SUM: 8858a47c667ffc4af840d72d8ced6605 amtu-1.0.7.tar.gz
SHA1SUM: 7f56a17ca616b6dc23564894c8503e5c5c75aa06 amtu-1.0.7.tar.gz

amtu is a small and simple machine check that is required for Common Criteria certification. It was originally released in 2003. You can find it at

In a major validation of the FLASK architecture, the OpenSolaris community has created a new project called Flexible Mandatory Access Control (fmac) to adapt the FLASK architecture to OpenSolaris. (The FLASK architecture that is the basis for SELinux.) Stephen Smalley will be one of the community leads. OSNews picked up the email thread today with some interesting comments.

James Morris notes related work in his blog posting from this morning and offers to help the community preserve interoperability with SELinux.

Personally, I would be delighted to see widespread adoption of the FLASK architecture lead to usability improvements and complexity reduction across the board.


Roy Fielding[1] finally quit the OpenSolaris community today, see his resignation letter[2]. The kettle finally boiled over and the realization come to many (but not all) that Sun is publishing their Solaris code for marketing purposes, rather than creating an independent, community-led, open source project with the ability to make real decisions.

It seemed so promising at first: “[T]hey made promises about it being an open development project. … Sun gave up its right to make arbitrary decisions regarding the phrase ‘OpenSolaris’ as part of its public agreement with the community in the form of the Charter. That was a self-imposed restriction in exchange for the benefits of community-driven development, freely made, and cannot be changed except in accordance with the charter itself (for example, by amending or dissolving the charter).” (excerpt from Roy Fielding’s resignation letter) But it was a sham: “The charter has therefore been violated. … Sun agreed that ‘OpenSolaris’ would be governed by the community and yet has refused, in every step along the way, to cede any real control over the software produced or the way it is produced, and continues to make private decisions every day that are later promoted as decisions for this thing we call OpenSolaris.” (excerpt from Roy Fielding’s resignation letter)

To be fair, most developers recognized the community as a sham right away merely based on the copyright and patent assignments required by the contributors agreement[3]. To date, Sun has received 578 patches[4], which represents a rate of 0.6 patches a day (first patch dated 6/17/05, there were some earlier undated contributions). Linus gets more patches while he is brushing his teeth than OpenSolaris gets in a week. Despite Roy’s efforts to build a real community, contributing to OpenSolaris always has been and seemingly always will be, corporate welfare.

For me, the realization that Sun just doesn’t get it, and never will, was crystallized the day I was turned away from an OpenSolaris Users’ Group meeting for refusing to sign an NDA.

It is a credit to the Solaris engineers that a few hearty souls want to soldier on amidst the wreckage: “Nonetheless I believe the time has come for a reboot and I am looking for other like-minded people to stand and form a full Board for positive change.”[5] And others who are even contemplating forking: “We will need to build out our infrastructure so that we can host development, mailing-lists and etc.. Once that is done, we will need to make the case to start moving development to the new organization/infrstructure. This will mean that even Sun employees will have to chose to move their development work to a community ‘controlled’ development infrastructure.”[6] It is to them, that I dedicate the title.

[5] (Yes, the author of this email is a Sun employee.)

Russell Coker is running a security blogging contest in conjunction with LCA 2008. Only people who have never been employed to work on security, have their own blogs, and who write positive blog entries on a security topic are eligible. He’s looking for commercial sponsors and offering cash prizes. This looks like a very cool contest that will hopefully have the nice side effect of garnering complete coverage of all of the security topics at the conference for those of us who are not there. Thanks, Russell!

The January State of Spam Report says that in December spam accounted for 75% of all email. Just a reminder of the cost that we pay daily for failing to build any type of security into the protocol.

Here’s another interesting look of the daily human cost of some security technologies – Study: IT Monitoring Stresses Workers Out. Key quote: “The main consequence of IT surveillance has been a sharp increase in work strain, involving feelings of exhaustion, anxiety and worry related to work…” and unbelievably, “More than half of British workers are now under some sort of IT scrutiny…” Is the value of the data they are protecting through these measures really greater than the individual and societal cost of the measures?


1. The Fedora Weekly News Issue 114 (dated Dec. 31, 2007) describes three “SELinux Rants” along with the response from the Fedora community. Choice quote: “…suggested that rather than blame SELinux for complexity it was better to realize that it was describing the complex interactions between different pieces of software.” Personally, I disagree with this sentiment. I think that our tools should abstract away some of the complexity rather than reflecting the complexity up to the user. I understand that details get lost during abstraction which can be detrimental to security, but if there cannot be some level of secure abstraction, then the tool is not going to be usable by the average user/administrator. Thanks to Oisin Feeley for this excellent synopsis of the threads.

2. The guru speaks to the Linux community: Interview with Bruce Schneier called Bruce Almighty: Schneier preaches security to Linux faithful (dated Dec. 27, 2007). Choice quotes: “Do you think that technologists sometimes forget about the human element generally when designing, developing, testing, implementing and/or maintaining systems? Sometimes? I think they forget almost all the time.” and “What will be the biggest security issues in the future? Crime. Crime, crime, crime. Everything else pales in comparison.”

3. 11 open-source projects certified as secure: You can see my previous blog posting about quibbles with the way that the story is written, but ultimately this is great news for open source and well worth mentioning again. Here’s a good story about the same announcement (best story on the topic that I have seen in this round): Weeding Out Flaws in Open-Source Apps

4. Data center robbery leads to new thinking on security is an interesting look at the data center break-in that occurred last October. Key quote: “‘The second someone crosses the line to armed robbery – [risking] a 25- to 50-year prison sentence -to steal some servers, we’re in different realm of security now,’ he said.”

5. Top 10 security headlines from 2007. I would have thought that the British data loss on most families with children under the age of 16 would have made this list but it is not here.

6. Yahoo tests support for OpenID. Key quote: “‘I expect Yahoo’s implementation to be a major influence in encouraging OpenID 2 adoption,’ wrote Simon Willison”.

In other news:

1. KernelTrap’s story on Decoding Oops and the referenced emails from Linus Torvalds and Al Viro are worth studying closely.

2. The Linux Foundation’s new podcast series Open Voices is off to a great start.

3. Linux guru offers sneak peak at Kernel Report – Computerworld interviews Jonathan Corbet. Key quote: “I am confident that, five years from now, we will say that we were able to accept unprecedented amounts of new code at a sustained rate for years while improving the quality of the final product.”

4. a ten-year timeline (part 1) LWN’s 10 year anniversary retrospective. (Subscriber only for 5 more days.) Interesting quote: “When Intel put money into Red Hat, it became clear to all that both Linux and Red Hat were headed toward success. This was, in some real sense, the point where Linux entered the dotcom bubble, though the real action was still a year away.”

Oh boy, I thought I had quibbles with the news story on the Coverity announcement yesterday and today someone points out the worst piece of yellow journalism that I have seen in quite some time: Open Source Code Contains Security Holes. First the title is atrocious and this quote “the popular open source backup and recovery software running on half a million servers, were all found to have dozens or hundreds of security exposures and quality defects” may (have) be(en) accurate, but without context sounds worse than it really is. The truth, as George Wilson said, is that this is an article along the lines “And in other news, fire is hot and water is wet.” I personally consider this irresponsible journalism. They had to willfully ignore older stories based on information from Coverity and Carnegie Mellon such as Open Scrutiny of Open Source Code which contains the nugget “The average defect rate of the open source applications was 0.434 bugs per 1000 lines of code. This compares with an average defect rate of 20 to 30 bugs per 1000 lines of code for commercial software, according to Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Sustainable Computing Consortium.” This is simply yellow journalism whose primary intention is to drive traffic and raise the ire of open source fans! Harrumph! Outrageous!

Note to Charles Babcock: software has bugs, even security bugs. If you want to drive down the number of bugs in the software that you are using, use open source.

This type of crappy response comes up almost every time Coverity announces a significant improvement. See this similar news story from ZDNet back in October 2006: Most open source is better.

Coverity has announced “Rung 2” and that 11 open source projects have achieved “Rung 2”. This means that they have resolved all Rung 1 defects found by the latest release of Coverity Prevent. There is news coverage at 11 open-source projects certified as secure which claims that the projects “have been certified as free of security defects”. The 11 projects with bragging rights are Amanda, NTP, OpenPAM, OpenVPN, Overdose, Perl, PHP, Postfix, Python, Samba, and TCL. The Coverity announcement itself says “resolved all of the defects identified at Rung 1”. Looking at the Rung 2 page, it appears to me that there are uninspected defects remaining at Rung 2 which may or may not represent actual defects (and/or actual security flaws), so I’m not sure that the news article’s claim is justified. I also would quibble with the use of the word “certified” which is at risk of becoming overused and rendered meaningless when applied in this context. Despite my quibbles with the news story, Coverity has done us all a major service by exercising their excellent source scanning tools on hundreds of open source projects and reporting the results in a controlled fashion. The 11 projects: Amanda, NTP, OpenPAM, OpenVPN, Overdose, Perl, PHP, Postfix, Python, Samba, and TCL, have done themselves proud by grinding through the reports and fixing defects found. Thanks to Homeland Security for sponsoring this effort, I appreciate this use of taxpayer money. Congratulations and a hearty Thanks! to Coverity and Amanda, NTP, OpenPAM, OpenVPN, Overdose, Perl, PHP, Postfix, Python, Samba, and TCL!